Saturday, 23 March 2013

Why did nearly 1,000 people walk miles through the snow in Barnet today?

Today close on 1,000 people walked from Finchley Central tube station to Friern Barnet library, to celebrate the Barnet Spring. I awoke at 6am. It was not in anticipation or excitement. It was because our great big stoopid dog was barking at the snow in the garden and wanted to go out and play. As my assumption on hearing the woofing was that it was either a burglar or a plea to go to the toilet, I was obliged to get up. Seeing a couple of inches of snow on the garden filled me with despair at the thought of the march. It didn't bother me, but I was worried that people may be put off, or be physically unable to get there. I was also concerned for the many old and frail people, who unlike me, may find the cold difficult to deal with  (I personally rather like freezing cold weather. I lived in Stockholm in the winter of 1981 and always associate extremes of cold with having a great time).

So I made my way to Finchley Central at about 10.30. I'd promised to help coordinate fundraising on the day. The Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) has a major challenge to fund the activities necessary to bring some sanity into public life in Barnet. This can only be done if we have the money to pay for the leaflets & other incidental things necessary to organise events, to say nothing of funding legal challenges to the insanity.

BAPS have produced a leaflet explaining the need for funds and asking people to pledge a regular amount via a standing order to the campaign. I undertook to distribute as many as possible and handed out over 100 to various people. I also spoke to everyone I gave a leaflet to, explaining how this was the most important thing we could do to fight One Barnet and outsourcing. Of the hundred people I asked, maybe 75% were positively minded and gave me every encouragement that they would complete the form and make a commitment. I asked people if they would seriously consider it and if they seemed uninterested, didn't trouble them further. Two people were hostile. One said to me "Are you so stupid that you don't know why the country is having to make cuts?" I responded "We are not raising funds to fight the cuts, we are raising funds to fight Barnet Councils outsourcing program, which will remove jobs from Barnet and runs a real risk of failure, causing major financial risk to the taxpayer". The man responded "You are just a c*nt". Now in many ways I'd have to agree with him so I responded. "Yes I am a complete c*nt, but setting that aside, have you considered the risks to the Boroughs finances which One Barnet poses". He suggested I had sex and travelled in a kindly manner. An old lady who heard the exchange asked for a form and said "I promise I'll fill it in, you shouldn't have to put up with abuse like that". I replied "It's a free country, I've been called worse".

Another person, who I asked if they would contribute said "No, there is no point, it's a foregone conclusion, this is all pointless". I responded by saying "Barnet have to listen to the judges at the Royal Courts. This can change things". He replied "If you believe that, you are an idiot". The lady standing next to him said "Ignore him, he'd only here because I made him come along".

Perhaps the strangest response of all was from Mr Julian Silverman, who is a BAPS stallwart. When I offered him a form, he enquired in a rather confused manner "Are we in Norfolk?". Julian is a highly intellectual chap, with a very well refined sense of humour, often unfathomable to us mere mortals. I wasn't really sure what he was on about (maybe the cold had just frozen his brain). I said "Isn't that a bit insulting to Norfolk?" He beamed with a maniac grin and gesticulated wildly towards a brick wall. I made a mental note to ask him what he was on about (assuming it wasn't just the cold), next time I saw him.

Having not bothered to wear a hat, gloves or a vest after a while I started to feel rather cold. My ears felt like cardboard and my brain started to tell me I wasn't really being very sensible. I pondered whether I too was in Norfolk. The cold can do that to you. Luckily sometime Barnet Eye guest blogger John Sullivan sprang to the rescue and said "You look cold, can I buy you a tea". We adjourned to Greggs and I took great delight in munching through a sausage roll, courtesy of Johns generosity. I've met many people in the struggle to see sense, but I have met none who I hold in as high esteem as John Sullivan. If there were twenty John Sullivans in Barnet with his honesty, fight and drive, the insanity of One Barnet would have been defeated years ago. Sadly we only have the one and he sometimes seems to me as if he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. John is not only generous but wise and funny. He is a pleasure to be with. We walked some of the route together chatting about the struggle. John is the carer for his adult daughter Susan. His greatest fear is what will happen to Susan if and when he and his wife Ida pass away. He believes that the current regime in Barnet are the epitomy of evil as he believes that they have no compassion or care for people with disability. Try as I might to find it, I see little evidence to contradict Johns appraisal of Susans prospects in the current climate in Barnet. I wish John could sit back and enjoy his twilight years with Ida and not have to worry. I have three children and as a parent I know that anything which threatens my children would be resisted to my dying breath with all my might and will. John feels that the current regime in Barnet are throwing his daughter to the lions and only he and Ida really have any prospect of delaying the day when her quality of life is completely destroyed in the name of budget cuts. If someone said to me they were going to take one of my children, remove all quality from their life and put their happiness and wellbeing in the hands of contractors who's sole motivation is to make a quick buck from getting the contract, I would react exactly as John has. I get it, but unlike John, I don't live with that fear and I am not reminded of the stomach retching awfulness of the situation every single day.  All I can do is write this blog and hope that sooner or later, people who have exhibited little empathy for their fellow, less fortunate, human beings see sense.

For the latter part of the march, I walked with GLA rep Andrew Dismore. The more I see of Andrew and the more I talk to him, the more I like him.  He shared some of the gossip about the GLA with me. He spilled the beans on what really gets Boris's goat. He also gave me a few interesting pointers about Tory Fire supremo James Cleverly. I had formed an impression of James from his tweets and writings. It is interesting to see how good an insight into someones personality this can give. Andrew also cast a little light on the dilemma of the GLA Lib Dems and their "nuffink to do with me guv'nor" attitude to the coalition". Sadly I don't think any Lib Dem should try that one. You are either in a coalition or you are not. 

We arrived at Friern Library to be greeted by warmth, tea and cakes. It was the 79th birthday of the Library. It was packed. I feel I played a role in saving it and that is a matter of some pride to me. If all of the people who helped wage the campaign hadn't bothered, then maybe right now a block of flats would be going up on the site. One BBC London there was a report stating "only 20% of Londoners use libraries". Scant word that this 20% is the most needy 20%. Students, children and old people make up the majority of the client base. That is why such figures are so misleading. Someone asked me about that figure and I said "Listen 0.0% of the country go to Eton, but the cabinet is stuffed full of people that went there. Every one of that 0.0% in the cabinet never has used a library out of necessity. Are we so foolish that we'd restict the ability of people to develop and grow their intellects purely because they can't afford books".

My eldest daughter is 17. During the week I attended a session at her college, where lecturers from Oxford and Cambridge spoke about the benefits of going to their respective universities. The lady from Oxford said "Oxford and Cambridge Universities have the finest libraries in the country. This means that our students have the greatest opportunities to learn. I would urge every one of you to read as many books as you can. This is the best way to develop your intellect". Sadly it seems that some people in our society believe that such opportunities should only be open to the elite.

The right always talk about "the politics of envy" when institutions such as Eton are discussed. I have no issue with anyone going to Eton or wishing to send their child to Eton. I do however have a massive issue with the concept that if a child has the potential to be the next Einstein, they are statistically 200 times more likely to get to Oxford to study if they are born to a family that will send them to Eton as if they are born to a single mum on benefits and sent to the local state comprehensive. To me that is not envy, that is unfairness.

That is why so many people turned out in the snow.

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